In doing the inventor interviews for some recent patent-application client work, I’ve been finding that Toyota’s 5 Whys questioning technique is a great tool. The technique gained fame as a way of drilling down to find the root cause of a problem. But it also offers a quick way of getting an inventor to tell you — in jury-friendly terms — why the invention matters.
Here’s a made-up hypothetical example, drawn from the long version of my slide presentation about the “one and done (mostly)” inventor interview to draft and file a patent application in one day:
[Me:] So, give me the one-sentence summary of the invention. [Inventor:] We’ve come up with a way of inhibiting the activity of the Doo-Hickey enzyme.
1. Why does that matter? Because inhibiting the activity of the Doo-Hickey enzyme reduces vascular constriction in nasal passages.
2. Why does that matter? Because vascular constriction in nasal passages is what causes a stuffy nose.
3. Why does that matter? Because if you can inhibit the activity of the Doo-Hickey enzyme, you get rid of the stuffy nose.
4. Why does that matter — aren’t there other decongestants out there? Because with our way, you don’t get sleepy.
5. Why does that matter — aren’t there other non-sleepy decongestants? Because with our way, not only do you not get sleepy, but your stuffy nose is gone for 48 hours.
This technique could also be called The 5 So-Whats or The 5 Why-Do-I-Give-a-[Hoots], but if I were an inventor, I don’t think I’d like it if my lawyer kept asking me that ….